rewards strategy

All Rewards Are Equal, But Some Are More Equal Than Others

When creating gamified experiences to drive behaviors, the rewards strategy really REALLY matters.

When creating gamified experiences to drive behaviors, the rewards strategy really REALLY matters.

When it comes to doing anything, the reason why we’re motivated to act comes down to what we’re going to get as a result. It’s about the reward we’ll receive – whether that’s a feeling it brings or something more tangible. For organizations, when it comes to introducing gamification or creating gamified experiences to drive behaviors, the rewards strategy really matters. Get it right and the results will speak for themselves; get it wrong and you may end up realizing the exact opposite of the result you set out to achieve.

By Sam Baker 

As with any strategic endeavor, fully understanding your aims and objectives is crucial to choosing the rewards to offer. What is it you want your audience to do? What are the behaviors you are trying to drive and why aren’t they doing that already? Whether your audience is internal to your organization or external, understanding the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ of their behaviors will go a long way in helping you present them with an experience that is fun, engaging, and most of all rewarding.

What makes an activity rewarding?

So, what makes something ‘rewarding’? It’s actually quite simple and comes down to two basic motivational drivers – those that are intrinsic and those that are extrinsic. For something to be intrinsically motivating, the reward is the thing in and of itself. So, pause for a moment and think about all the things you do for the pure joy and fun of it – you do these things because you are intrinsically motivated to do them. Whether that’s singing at the KTV bar or volunteering at a retirement centre, there’s no actual reward for your actions, but rather the reward is the experience you have while doing it. Now consider all the things you do because of the external rewards you get – the extrinsic motivators. You go to work for your salary; you go to the gym to maintain your physical fitness; you play a competitive sport because of the status you get from winning. And while you may well enjoy going to work or playing a sport, it is often the external reward from the money or status you receive that keeps you engaged and going back for more.

With this in mind, let’s think about your audience and why they’re not doing the thing(s) you want them to do – maybe it’s your employees that are not completing the e-learning you’ve asked them to, or maybe your customers are not registering for an account on your website and are simply checking out as guests. By introducing an element of gamification into the equation you make the experience fun and engaging, which in turn makes it a rewarding thing to do, in and of itself. However, in some situations, no matter how hard you try, it’s not going to be fun enough to encourage people to repeat the experience. Now that’s where we need to look at the extrinsic motivators, which are the rewards you offer in return.

Consider Different Reward Types – Tangible and Intangible

We can divide extrinsic reward types a number of ways, but my personal favorite is the SAPS model, which stands for Status, Access, Power, and Stuff. Status, access and power are largely intangible rewards strategies in that they’re not actual physical items, which is great news for organizations as these are the ones that often don’t require large reward budgets but can have a huge impact on motivating your audiences. Status can be easily recognized in the form of leaderboards, badges or level-ups; you can reward your audience with access to exclusive content, a different set of games, or next tier prizes and discounts if they complete certain tasks; and power can be recognized by inviting them to co-create the experience giving them the ability to answer other individual’s questions or granting them moderator status.

Stuff’ is exactly what it says – stuff, i.e. the tangible things such as physical prizes or experiences that you can offer them in return for their interaction. Again, this is where understanding your audiences’ motivations and tying that back to your goals and objectives becomes key. For example, research shows that Millennials are more interested in experience and opportunity than owning ‘stuff’. So having an experiential type reward, such as dinner with the CEO of your brand, will carry much more value to that audience than say a $50 Amazon voucher. Likewise, if you’re looking to build your brand or reward your brand advocates, offering exclusive branded merchandise could be what works best and can be hugely effective.

Timing and Value Also Plays a Role With Rewards Strategy

Timing of the reward and its perceived value is also an important consideration. ‘Surprise and delight’ type rewards can be good mechanics for reinvigorating and maintaining interest, after all, we all feel good when we get a surprise reward for our loyalty and engagement, right? But rewards given away for free don’t carry much perceived value. ‘Expected rewards’ can prove more powerful by keeping motivation and engagement going as your audience will know that if they complete certain actions they’ll earn certain rewards and this helps gives them the motivation to see the task through to completion.

As mentioned, rewards that are earned carry more value to the recipient than rewards that are given away too freely. However, there is a balance to be struck. If you make it too hard to win a prize or near-on impossible to earn the rewards, then these will likely become a de-motivator rather than the motivator it is intended to be. Likewise, with point structures and leaderboards, seeing where you rank in relation to the people just above you or just below you can motivate you to do more as you can see, for example, that you only need 10 points to beat the person ahead of you. However, showing a full leaderboard with the top user having a balance of 10,000 points to a user who has just signed up with zero points can be massively demotivating to some as they may be unable to see how they could possibly ever catch up.

Creating a Valuable and Rewarding Experience

As you can see, there’s a lot to consider when choosing rewards and indeed when introducing gamification or designing a gamified experience. The key is to think about the different options that are available within your budget and to devise a rewards strategy that will be the most effective in motivating your audience while ensuring that you deliver a meaningful, rewarding, and valuable overall experience.

To help make it simpler, just remember that when considering what rewards to employ, you should:

  1. Be clear on what you’re trying to achieve – make sure the rewards reinforce the objectives you’ve set and the behaviors you’re trying to drive.
  2. Understand your audiences’ motivation – just because you think it’s a great reward, will they? What does ‘value’ look like to them?
  3. Provide options to see what works. You may not have enough data to know what your audience really wants so testing different rewards and seeing what they choose most frequently will allow you to spot patterns and draw conclusions on what people actually value as a reward. Indeed, we have seen huge success with our clients where rather than giving set prizes they have allowed their audiences to earn points that can be spent in a ‘rewards shop’ where prizes are purchased in exchange for the points they have earned.
  4. Review and refine as you go. Trends change, and people get fatigued, so adding to the experience, changing the rewards strategy, and introducing new challenges and activities can invigorate any experience and keep people interested.
  5. Ask for feedback! Providing a feedback loop is one of the core components of a gamified experience and it’s a great way to find out what your audience really think and what they really want.

Sam Baker is VP of Customer Success at 3radical.

Photo by okeykat on Unsplash.

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